Water Cress, a plant (nasturtium officinale) of the cruciferm or mustard family. The generic name has become the common name of a plant of a different family. (See Nasturtium.) It is a smooth perennial aquatic, with much branched, creeping or floating stems, which root freely at the joints; the pinnate leaves have 3 to 11 roundish or oblong leaflets; the white flowers, which appear all summer, are in short racemes, and succeeded by pods half an inch or more long, slightly curved upward, containing two distinct rows of turgid, wingless seeds. The plant is a native of northern Europe and Russian Asia. The leaves and young shoots have a pleasant pungency, and are generally esteemed as a salad, being eaten simply with salt, or added to lettuce and other salads and dressed with oil and vinegar. In many localities the plant grows spontaneously in brooks and ditches, but it is largely cultivated for market, and is a very profitable crop. A clear stream with a gravelly bottom is desirable; this is often made to cover a large area by preparing beds at the sides and directing the water into them by means of partial dams.
The beds are stocked by sowing seeds, or most generally by setting fragments of the plants; the crop should not be pulled, but cut, as the portion left soon throws out new and tender shoots, allowing several successive cuttings to be made. There are but few varieties; the brown-leaved is thought to have a larger proportion of foliage to the stems, and a new variety, the sweet Erfurt, which has yellowish green foliage, is regarded in Europe as the best flavored. Those who have no brook may cultivate the water cress in a tub, and it may be had at all seasons by planting cuttings in broad pots, set in pans of water, in a cool greenhouse. The winter cress (Baroarea proecox) has been cultivated, and has become naturalized in Pennsylvania and southward; it is sometimes sold for water cress, but it has a bitter and much less agreeable taste.